There it is… the moment of intense concentration, the intimate conversation just got to the real part and … “Mu..umm” . Not quite a whinge but definitely the call for your attention that breaks into the middle of what you are doing. What to do when your kids need you, when you have your head engaged in something else?
Every child does it. Most adults do it at some point. Interrupt. Demand full attention when I don’t want to give it. That split second when you know listening to their need means denying your own. How do we get the balance right between our legitimate desire to finish what we were doing, to be in the moment and give full attention to something or someone AND to be available to these little ones for whom we care?
You see I want my kids to interrupt. I WANT to know if there is blood, guts or vomit. Equally I WANT to help with physical, practical and emotional needs, to stop up pain and to validate my littlies. But I also recognise it is not good for them to be the centre of my universe; to have all of my undivided attention gives them a false sense of their place in the world.
So my answer was to teach them HOW to interrupt. When they saw me deep in thought or deep in conversation or prayer with someone, they could still approach. By putting their little hands on either my thigh or my forearm (dependent on their height!) let me know that they had something to say. At that point I chose how to attend.
By covering their hand with mine, we tapped into the agreed communication that I knew they were there, and what they had to say was important. I would respond as soon as possible while still respecting the person I was talking to, or even respecting myself and my flow of thought. This silent, gentle waiting on their part helped train satisfaction in a delayed response, knowing that I would pay full attention when I could. It was a fair trade. It helped me validate the importance of my other relationships, without denying the importance of my mothering.
Of course at the first gap in the conversation I would politely model, “Excuse me” and turn to them. Sometimes it was yes, but mostly I needed some time to think it through fully. Children of all ages have a canny knack of knowing that when you are distracted they are more likely to get away with something you might not let slide otherwise… think of asking for biscuits when your own mother was on the phone… you know what I mean!
One of the best tools I had from very young until they were older teens was the response, “If you need an answer now, it’s no. Let me think about it and I’ll answer in two/five/ten minutes. When I’ve had time to think about all sides it might be yes.”
THE BEST ANSWER for any child over ten every time seems to be…”If you need an answer now, it’s no, but if you can give me two reasons, I’ll reconsider.”
Teach your child to present their case – you WANT them to be able to ask for that which matters. Later in life that may be a job, a pay rise, a hand in marriage. Asking is not wrong. Asking for the wrong thing is not wrong in itself. Accepting the answer is the key. As a parent it is my place to decide, to allow (or not) the things that matter. If I shut down the asking, I may miss just what is important to my child and worse, shut down any feeling inside of them that what they want is valid, or important, or worth pursuing.
So with the older teens, try an answer such as, “Go away and think. Come back with five good reasons and one of those reasons must be in my interest.” This teaches them to present a case. To actually think through an argument to a point of valid negotiation, and to discern that reasons are not the same as one wish (I want it) dressed in five different disguises! To reason, not just whinge or list their wants and, if you take the time, to help them discern between “I want” and “This is good for me. This is also good for you, Mum.” Isn’t that worth training… they present their case thinking not only of their own wants, but of how it affects others also. I think so!